Bill aimed at keeping Preakness in Baltimore OK'd

April 14, 2009

ANNAPOLIS (AP) -- The Preakness Stakes horse race would have extra protections to remain in Baltimore under a plan approved Monday by the General Assembly that would allow Maryland to buy the second leg of the Triple Crown to prevent it from being moved.

The Maryland House of Delegates voted 93-43 to pass a measure already advanced by the state Senate. Gov. Martin O'Malley, who proposed the emergency legislation last week, is expected to sign it as the legislative session winds down.

The measure would give the state eminent domain authority to acquire the race and Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore if no buyer emerges that would keep the race in Maryland. The race's fate is uncertain because of federal bankruptcy proceedings for its current owner, Magna Entertainment Corp. It's unclear how much impact a state law could have in the federal case in Wilmington, Del.

Supporters, including O'Malley's administration, say the race is crucial to Maryland's struggling horse industry. It generates 20,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of $1.5 billion, according to administration estimates.


Supporters describe the measure as the best insurance policy lawmakers can make to protect those economic interests. They have been quick to cite the example of Maryland's loss of the Baltimore Colts football team to Indianapolis 25 years ago as a stinging reminder of what inaction could mean.

"We made this lunch. Let's vote 'yes' and don't allow someone else to eat our lunch," said Del. Shawn Tarrant, D-Baltimore. "The Preakness belongs to the people of Maryland."

Maryland contends it has a legal right to the first chance to buy the race, if it goes up for sale. Magna has not recognized that right, and there are many questions about how a federal bankruptcy court will direct the sale of assets. A hearing on selling the assets is scheduled for April 20.

Opponents to the legislation say state law won't be able to pre-empt federal bankruptcy court.

"This bill is political cover to say we did everything we could when, in fact, in the end, the federal government, the federal court, could say: 'Maryland, you're out,'" said Del. Anthony O'Donnell, R-Calvert.

Some opponents also contended the plan is poorly and hastily put together, paving the way for the state to get stuck with a "white elephant" racetrack at taxpayer expense.

"The state of Maryland should not be gambling in this business because at the end of the day, there's a good chance we'll be losers, and who's going to be on the hook? Your constituents, the taxpayers for the state of Maryland," said Del. Richard Impallaria, R-Baltimore County.

The bill also would allow Maryland to purchase or exercise eminent domain over Laurel Park, a racetrack in Anne Arundel County, and the Bowie Race Course Training Center. It also would apply to all rights and racing events that are associated with the Preakness, including its trophy, the Woodlawn Vase.

The Maryland Economic Development Corporation, created by the state in 1984 to help finance economic development, would be able issue bonds to acquire the property, under the legislation.

The Herald-Mail Articles